“Wanna go on a date? Just the two of us?”
I have asked this question to my son many times, but not lately. Ever since the baby was born, almost 7 months ago, we haven’t been on a single date.
My 4-year-old is the oldest child of three. He has a 2 year-old sister and a baby brother. He is incredibly intelligent, passionate, caring and helpful. He is also quick to anger, highly emotional and spirited. He feels everything at a more intense level than most and loves deeply with all his heart.
When his sister was born two and a half years ago and he was quickly demoted as the only child, we began going on “dates.” From simple to elaborate, we would leave the house, hand in hand, relishing in our freedom, neither one of us caring much about where we went as long as we were together.
Another year or so passed and I got pregnant again. The new baby was born and he quickly became my big boy, my helper, the one who I counted on to behave and not make any more work for me than I needed. He loves his younger siblings more than I ever thought possible, and I know without a shadow of a doubt he would never trade them in to regain only-child status.
That said, he has gotten cheated—placed on the back burner. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which meant that Daddy was home. My 4-year-old spent most of the day screaming that Daddy wasn’t giving him any attention, despite the fact that they played all day. I often recognize his cries for help, let him know that I hear him, and validate his feelings. But so often, I feel helpless. There is one of me and three of them. And let’s face it—when none of your children go to sleep on their own or sleep through the night, patience is hard to come by. This morning when I woke up, I asked my boy one of his favorite questions:
“Hey, do you wanna go on a date? Just the two of us?”
I saw the twinkle in his eye. I felt the excitement creep out of his skin. He asked me if I could carry him as a special treat. I carried my big 4-year-old to the car. It seemed his toes were nearly dragging on the ground. When did he get so big?
We decided to go to IHOP as a treat, since we are a gluten-free household. In the booth, he cuddled up next to me and took out his crayon, and we worked on his activity placemat together. As I looked at the side of his face while he focused on the maze before him, I noticed a scratch on his cheek. I began scanning his face, looking at details as if I had forgotten who he was and needed to relearn every inch of him. I noticed that the freckles on his nose and cheekbones extended all the way to his temples, fading into his coarse brown hair. Where was my baby? He leaned into me, and while maintaining focus on his maze, whispered “I love you.”
In that moment, I realized that I hadn’t yet said his name followed by a sigh of disapproval. I hadn’t given him “the look” across the table that nonverbally communicated, “Stop that right now. You know you aren’t allowed to do that.” He was perfect in every way.
When did I become so out of touch? How could I not know that he had freckles on his temples? After our meal, he gathered the check and asked for money so he could pay for our date. We stood and his head came above my belly button. When did he get so tall? I watched as he paid for our meal, chatted with the cashier, and asked to be carried one last time.
As soon as we got to the car, a downpour of tears, emotions and regret flooded my face. I took a deep breath and gave my boy a big hug. He asked my why I was crying, and I explained to him that I know that it’s hard for both of us to have to take care of his siblings. That sometimes I don’t spend enough time with him, or pay quality attention to him even if I am “with” him. I promised him that we would go on more dates, even if we just took a ride in the car together and listened to music. He assured me that he would like that.
That is why I date my son.
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